Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

The Burden

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The Burden. Honore Daumier.

This image is a depiction of a laundress with her child. It is a great comparison with Daumier's other painting Laveuse au Quai d'Anjou. Both of these painting depict poor laundresses; however, in completely different ways. In this painting, the tone is harsh and fast-paced.

The Titlle: The title of the image suggests that the child is a burden to the mmmother. Perhaps the child interferes with her doing laundry. However, her burden could also be her life situation. Her laundry bag seems to be weighing heavily on her; so perhaps she feels that life is too heavy for her to handle, and she cannot properly provide for her child.

The Child: Her hand grasps the shirt of her mother, almost as if she is trying to hold onto her love, and make a connection. The face has no distinguishing features; it is all very blurred. Daumier uses this technique as a means for social commentary. Through the blurred face, he is depicting how the majority of bourgoisie and uppeeer-class never notice the poor children on the street; they almost become part of the scenery. Looking closely, the child seems to have an evil or devilish countenance. This goes along with the stereotype of the time that the poor were sinful and immoral.

The Mother: In this painting, the mother shows no love for her child because she has no physical contact, unlike her child. The observer does not know whether it is because she is too overwhelmed with her work or if she merely does not have any love for her child. Her clothes appear to be falling off, which signifies her poverty. The mother's face is seen more clearly than her child's, but it is still blurred. The observer can tell by her eyes that the mother is tired and worn out.

Physical Activity: Both the mother and child are running away, but what is not known. One possibility is the police. Another possibility, since it is after dusk, is men mistaking the mother for a street walker. This running indicates that they do not lead an easy life; that it is filled with fear, poverty, and work.

Color Choices: The mother and child are painted in colors that are closely related to the background color. This choice by the artists illustrates to the observer that they lead a dark and harsh life. They do not live in the bright, colorful, high cultured part of France. Through the bright colors in the upper left hand corner, it appears that the mother and child are running away from the lights of a glowing city, possibly Paris.

This page created by Devon Hill, 2001